Codelco's Ministro Hales copper mine has suffered “significant damage” from “acts of sabotage” by strikers who seized control of the plant earlier this week, the company said.

Striking contract workers have cut a conveyor belt used to transport ore from the mine, “aiming to halt the continuity of the ramp-up of the operations”, the Chilean state-owned miner said on Tuesday evening.

This could lead to a production loss of about 70 tpd of fine copper, Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, added.

“This equipment, which was loaded with ore, is fundamental for the entire production chain,” the company said.

Codelco added that the strikers have been active in high-risk areas of the plant, which could lead to serious accidents.

“It is not yet possible to quantify the impact of these acts and of the partial stoppage for [the company’s] production and results,” Codelco said in a filing with Chile’s stock market regulator, SVS.

Ministro Hales, located in northern Chile, is the first of Codelco’s structural projects and was close to being inaugurated.

The mine produced 141,000 tonnes of copper in 2014, contributing to an overall increase in Codelco’s output for the year, to 1.67 million tonnes.

Ministro Hales is the second site to be seized by strikers – operations at Salvador, Codelco’s smallest division, have been suspended since July 22.

Contractors went on strike on July 21 demanding the right to negotiate directly with Codelco on an increase in pay and benefits. 

One striker has died during clashes with the police.

On Tuesday August 4, the first roundtable session to discuss the situation was held in Santiago, involving Codelco and executives from the contractors.

The strikers represented by the Chilean copper workers confederation (CTC) did not attend the session.

Danielle Assalve
Twitter: dassalve_mb